Pa. union, residents debate officer's 10-day suspension for using TASER at traffic stop
Leadership investigated the incident and handed down a one-day suspension, but town commissioners increased the punishment
By Richard Ilgenfritz
Main Line Times & Suburban
LOWER MERION, Pa. — A packed house filled the boardroom of the Lower Merion Administration Building this week as dozens of people came out to express support and opposition to an action the commissioners took a week earlier.
The debate was over the disciplinary action the board took in suspending a police officer for 80 hours for violating department policies during a traffic stop in January.
On one side, members of the Lower Merion Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 28 with some community members protested the length of the suspension.
On the other side of the discussion were other members of the public, including representatives from the local NAACP. They wanted the commissioners to stick with their decision.
The traffic stop at the center of the dispute occurred on Jan. 8 when police officer Charles Murphy attempted to pull over Chaine Jordan. The stop was for following too close behind another vehicle. Jordan continued driving on Conshohocken State Road for over a mile until she stopped in a parking lot at the corner of Rock Hill Road.
During the stop, Murphy reportedly approached Jordan's car with his weapon drawn due to the tinted windows on the vehicle.
The stop quickly turned argumentative between both parties.
In the end, Murphy used a Taser as he and other officers pulled Jordan from the car and arrested her. She was charged with fleeing or attempting to elude police, resisting arrest, possessing a controlled substance, driving too closely, and driving with a suspended license. All charges have since been held over at the district court level.
After police leadership investigated the incident, they determined that the officer violated some department policies. When it came time for the board to punish the officer for policy violations, the department's command staff recommended a one-day suspension. The commissioners rejected the recommendation and increased it to 80 hours.
John Iushewitz, president of Lower Merion FOP, said the officer took full responsibility for the policy violations and made no excuses for his actions.
"Following the full investigation, the command staff recommended a one-day, eight-hour suspension without pay. This board decided to do 10 times that. The 10-day, 80 hours suspension of our brother and colleague is irrational and punitive. The fact that members of this board hinted for his termination is beyond reason and understanding. Every single officer must now immediately evaluate their every move while on duty and also their continued emplacement with this township."
Iushewitz's comments were made while dozens of FOP members stood behind him. Many held signs reading, "I stand with LMPD."
Brian Reese-Turner, president of the NAACP Main Line Branch, said that although they preferred the officer to be fired, they accepted the 80-hour suspension and want the board to uphold it.
"What we're calling for and what we've been calling for and what we're appreciative of is the work that the board has done," Reese-Turner said. "We were here last week when we heard the appalling recommendation from the superintendent of police. While it was not what we asked for, we did hear 80 hours unpaid, and we thought that was a suitable punishment for the officer that created the incident. What we're asking for is accountability. I don't know where in America any type of employee can come to their boss and put on this type of show. It's not appropriate, and that's why we're calling for more accountability [and] oversight for our police department."
Ardmore resident Crystal Blunt said she wanted to commend the commissioners for at least extending the suspension. She then raised the issue of police training.
"They need to have ongoing training," Blunt said. "He approached that car angrily. He was angry because she didn't pull over when he wanted her to."
Blunt went on to say she wanted to hear more from the commissioners moving forward on issues of training.
"I want to hear about training that they need to be responsible for. I think that there needs to be something in place — objectives, things that they need to meet, especially for this officer if you are going to put him back on the street. And there needs to be some accountability. There has to be, or someone is going to get hurt. They want to get home safely to their families, and we want to get safely home to our families. And the only way we're going to do this — figure this out — is if we work together."
Joe Braun, the immediate past president of the FOP Lodge 28, described Murphy as an outstanding officer.
"If you want to give this guy 10 days, who is an outstanding police officer, he's been a police officer for a long time. He's got a very good track record. His evaluations are off the charts. You want to give him 10 days. That is excessive, it's reckless and it sends a bad message to everybody. That's what we're talking about policies, not the law. He didn't violate the law. He violated policies. He never lied about them. He never said he was above it. He accepted it. He accepted his punishment, and then it got turned on its head, and that's what we're here to defend. Those 10 days sends a bad message to your officers."
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